Sunday, November 23, 2014

SPECIAL REVIEW: The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't (1971)

"Because of you two, I almost ended up in that big acorn tree in the sky!"

Last time, I revisited a somewhat obscure Thanksgiving special that I had only seen in the first grade. This time around, it's off to something more people have seen: The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't. Back in the 90's Cartoon Network played the heck out of this special when November rolled around; nowadays, not so much. You can probably catch it on Boomerang or something, but I can't make any guarantees.

The last review, The Mouse on the Mayflower, came to us from Rankin-Bass. This one comes from Hanna-Barbera.

Scrappy... Scrappy... Scrappy... he's not in there. We're safe.
(Two Fred Flintstones*, though.)
Yes, Hanna-Barbera. Spawned at MGM, dominated TV animation in the Dark Age, and absorbed by Time-Warner! Some animation enthusiasts (one being my guest, maniacaldude, from my Fraidy Cat review), would consider it a mere baby step up from Filmation's works. But for better or worse, its made its mark on the industry. On one hand, it's the company that unleashed Scoobysploitation on the world and invented the looping background. One the other, it made syndicated cartoons (and to some extent, anime) possible.

With all that out, let's get into the special.


We start with a boy and his sister (who sounds a little too old) about to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with their parents. At the same time, a family of three squirrels (with the youngest played by June Foray... and no, this isn't Rocky) about to celebrate the holiday as well. Why would a bunch of animals celebrate a human holiday? Well, the squirrels have an ancestor who was involved with the first Thanksgiving! Surprise!

The father squirrel goes over the basic history of the founding of Plymouth Plantation: the voyage of the Mayflower, the hardships of the first months in the New World, meeting the Wampanoag (here, true to history, they don't meet the boat!), et cetera.

The squirrel's forefather, Jeremy, was living in a tree at the settlement. Close to his tree was a cabin belonging to a boy called Johnny Cook and his family. Just like in the last special, the Pilgrims were British... but lack accents.

I didn't know Fred Jones from Scooby-Doo had
ancestors who came over on the Mayflower!
Johnny goes out into the forest with a toy gun and mistakes a Wampanoag boy for a turkey (who mistakes Johnny for a turkey as well). They get into a fight and Jeremy has to come down and resolve the argument. He tells them that they should be friends. The squirrel goes up them and speaks to the boys directly. They don't question it or run back to the village or anything.

What rules apply here? We've established that animals can talk to other animals, what about here? Can the boys understand Jeremy because they're younger?

Of course, the two boys patch things up. The native boy introduces himself as Little Bear...

Wrong Little Bear and you know it! Pre-K stuff will have no presence on this blog!
Besides, this show's from 1971.

The weird thing about the whole sequence? A minute ago, during Papa Squirrel's summary of the traditional Thanksgiving tale, we saw the two boys together gigging for fish in a stream:

I guess they didn't say anything during this time and forgot who they
were in a few months.

Finally seeing eye to eye, LB and Johnny go back to the settlement and we get an extension of the special's theme song. This sequence also showcases the relatively small amount of footage HB had for it. We are shown two sets of three Puritan ladies carrying cauldrons around, turkeys roasting on a spit (with the background being the only thing that changes), kettles warming over a fire, all shown no less than twice during the sequence. We also get an alternate version of the intro when we hit the second half!

Obviously, it was filler. But then again, this is a Dark Age special and they needed more singing. Still, pretty good party considering that none of the settlers wanted to do anything for their first few months in North America.

Time for another history lesson. When Plymouth first started out, it was practically a socialist state. Before Karl Marx was even a thought, Governor William Bradford wanted all the settlers to make a common pool for all goods made there to be used by all the colonists when they needed it. Bradford wrote of the results of this method in his account, Of Plymouth Colony:
The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; and that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice.
Basically, when something had to be done, people tried to weasel their way out of work. After all, what was in it for them? Why put effort into a single project when others were also working on it and you could opt out and still reap the same benefits? The winter of 1620/21 was called the "Starving Time" by Bradford and the socialized economy of Plymouth was gradually phased out by the introduction of private property. Only when they had land of their own, the Pilgrims were able to put the stuff they'd learned from the Native Americans to optimal use and prosper.

"This had very good success," wrote Bradford "for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been." 

Amid the revelry, Johnny and LB run off into the forest, pretending to be hunters; naturally, Jeremy tries to get the two back to Plymouth Plantation before they get lost. He, instead, gets stuck in a small log. The two boys' absence gets noticed by the people at the feast; it gets cancelled and search party is sent out to find them.

The boys get lost and eventually reach a river. They try to take it downstream, thinking the colony is down that it... only to almost go over a waterfall! Quick thinking by Jeremy gets the two to dry land, where the squirrel chews them out for almost getting him killed. Getting his bearings straight, the squirrel points the two back toward Plymouth.

The duo sings a song (with the BGM using a duck call as an instrument) while strutting aimlessly through the woods and crossing the same stream twice. Jeremy tells them that going back to Plymouth on their own is a stupid idea an calls in a bunch of his animal buddies to babysit them while he scurries off to find some adults.

In the meantime, the two boys play hunter again (under animal supervision) and run into a wolf!


Holy crap! This isn't just a Thanksgiving special... it's Jonny Quest, 1621!

Think about it! You've got a blond-haired Caucasian protagonist...

...his Indian friend (Native American and Oriental, for the respective versions)...

...and their animal companion!

Even the father of the first boy listed has red hair!

And that says nothing about the constant life-threatening scenarios both groups of kids consistently find themselves in! 

And nobody noticed this after forty-plus years?

Anyway, with a wolf out trying to kill the boys, Jeremy's animal friends take action against the beast. Sparrows dive! Porcupine needles are launched like rockets! Rocks and acorns are hurled!

At the same time, Jeremy finds the search party and tells them where the boys are... in Squirrel. What would this accomplish? He spoke to the boys in English, but his words are basically "Jrbbl! Jrbbl! Gblubub!" here.

The wolf corners LB and Johnny. LB uses his bow on it, but the arrow seems to be just a toy since it bounces off the beast's snout. The search party attempts to shoot it with a musket, but fears that the gun would hit one of the boys. Fortunately, Jeremy bites the wolf's tail, shifting its attention to him. He tricks its into a hollow log, where it gets stuck!

With LB and Johnny safe, the festivities resume and Jeremy is made the guest of honor! He sings a song in honor of what all they were able to have and is joined in each verse by the two boys. This begs a question: is Jeremy singing in Squirrel or English? Given just a few scenes back, he was speaking to the search party in Squirrel. Will they understand him here, or just LB and Johnny?

"For if it hadn't been for him," says Papa Squirrel "there never would have been a Thanksgiving." I dunno, the mouse living in the steeple of Siloam Presbyterian Church over on McElveen Avenue may dispute your claim.

The squirrels eat their meal and the son wishes that Jeremy were alive to join them. Little does he know, that painting of his forefather is haunted by his spirit!

Ba, ba, BAAAAA!!


After doing The Mouse on the Mayflower, I knew I had to take a look at this one. It's only half as long, but it tells its own story rather than have the whole thing reenact the Mayflower's journey across the Atlantic and the founding of Plymouth Plantation. A lot of great voice talent is brought in and even some of the animation is pretty good considering the time and studio (like one shot of the wolf running at an angle and the smoothness of the boys' walking through the woods). The depiction of the Native Americans as non-stereotypes via Little Bear probably helped this special last a little longer in the modern consciousness than in Mouse.

Hanna-Barbera, yes, was low budget, but sometimes they got creative. One example I can think of right off the bat: the use of Jeremy rolling a boulder up a small tree to bend it over to prevent the boys from going over the waterfall. They had Jeremy moving on a flat plane, but rotated the background. Better than having Little Bear or Johnny saying "Look! Jeremy bent that tree down!" when it happens offscreen.

The weakest point for this special, I believe, is the songs. There were only three, but they were all pretty forgettable. Two of them, "Let's Take the Shortest Road Home" and "It's a Wonderful Day To Say Thank You" were pretty flaccid, yet the former was fluffy enough for my tastes. It also seemed as if they were hoping that "Dinner on the First Thanksgiving Day" was going to take off and become THE song for the holiday; it was played three times: the intro, the cooking montage, and the credits. Of course, if HB did try to attempt another Thanksgiving special, they'd probably reuse it... just like they did with their original Christmas carols.

After all is said and done, TTTAW is a pretty good special when you consider its age. When Turkey Day rolls around, try to YouTube it, it's worth your time this season.

I'm DLAbaoaqu. Happy Thanksgiving to my readers in the US.

*The "Fred" in the trenchcoat is a spy who just so happened to look like the real one. The movie was A Man Called Flintstone. I saw it a couple of times on Cartoon Network's Cartoon Theater back in the late 90's.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really enjoying these reviews, keep them up.